Sunday, 2 October 2011

I ♥ the 90s (comics), #1: Generation X

The 90s, while a cultural high point in music, TV and arguably cinema, are thought to have been the worst in comic bookery's history. In a post-Watchmen/Dark Knight world, everything was 'grim'n'gritty', everyone was an antihero, shoulder pads, huge guns and big-booby cheesecake was valued higher than story. Not to mention the fact that you would take home a pile of comics and realise that, though they all looked different on the outside, the interiors were all the same: alternate covers. It was a dark time, that's what a lot of people say. I, however, say differently.

My first example is the first comic I ever bought, and it was Generation X, the teen X-men spin off. Premise-wise, that doesn't sound great (though the title is clever, you must admit), but that's part of the reason that it was so surprising.

It's about two teachers, Banshee (the best X-Man), and Emma Frost (until that point, a villain), helping the next generation of X-Men through their teen years, made all the more volatile by living in a world that fears and hates them, and, of course, all the super powers. Inevitably, there's a lot less training to become superheroes, and a lot more teen angst and accidental adventure.

The teenagers each have a well-defined personality, and riff off of each other in a very Buffy-esque way (I think this predates Buffy though), and there is drama a-go-go with all the love triangles and mysterious pasts. There's Skin (who has grey, stretchy skin and... a mysterious past!), who likes Husk (can shed her skin and become other forms), who likes Chamber (who has no face but a slightly comedy English accent nonetheless), and there's Jubilee (from the X-Men), who likes Synch (who copies powers with a rainbow but isn't gay), who kind of likes M (who is perfect). There's also Penance, who is spiky, red and has diamond-hard skin (there are a lot of skin-related powers in Gen X - this is an excellent nod to the issues teens face with their skin, and is also, kind of, gross), and she has a mysterious connection to M.

So what makes it so good? It does sound like fairly standard superhero fare, now I type it up. But it's just so not. The stories, which are generally very quick-paced by today's standards, are always fun, full of great character moments, and often a little bit weird. The teams main villain, for example, is a vampiric monster called Emplate who sucks tasty young teen juice with his mouth hands, and is accompanied by a sassy little helper called DOA. They go on adventures in a world of elves and dragons, right after they fight evil mutants in sewers, and then they'll fight a horde of mutant toads, build a tree house and have a campfire. All the while, being witty and cute and with a real sense of danger.

Chris Bachalo, had a beautiful, slightly weird art style, and he peppered the page with little jokes and visually interesting ticks. Even if a page were mostly just people talking, it would be filled with bubbles or foliage or snow, or something. Basically, he made an effort with his panels, which weren't just a load of boxes plonked on a page.

And Scott Lobdell has never written better, in my opinion. Everything just clicked in this series - the characters all worked (and they worked together, importantly), the tone was just right, generally light-hearted but with this impending sense of dread hanging over everything, and it was just brilliant! If I had to compare it to something, it would be the best of teen TV, your Buffys and your Freaks and Geekses.

Issue #25 of this series affected me like no comic has or since. I was relatively new to comics, admittedly, but I really thought that every character was dead and I was supremely upset. I had completely fallen in love with all of the characters and to see them put through such hardship was... tough.

Lobdell left shortly after that issue, and Bachalo not long after. It carried on for another 50 issues, but... well it became slightly more generic, let's say, and kind of whimpered to a conclusion. But these first 30ish issues were something very special and, if they're collected, I recommend you run out and buy them immediately.

(I'm still mad about what they did to Skin.)

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